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Do you have to be a celeb to tweet for airline help?

By Jacque Wilson, CNN
Kevin Smith posted this picture of himself puffing out his cheeks on a Southwest Airlines flight.
Kevin Smith posted this picture of himself puffing out his cheeks on a Southwest Airlines flight.
  • Kevin Smith gets quick response to his complaint about Southwest Airlines
  • Travel experts say other customers can get the same response
  • Use replies on Twitter to get better feedback, industry insiders say

(CNN) -- When film director Kevin Smith tweeted about getting kicked off a Southwest Airlines flight on Saturday, the airline responded in less than 20 minutes.

"Dear @SouthwestAir - I know I'm fat, but was Captain Leysath really justified in throwing me off a flight for which I was already seated?" Smith tweeted at 6:52 p.m.

"@ThatKevinSmith hey Kevin! I'm so sorry for your experience tonight! Hopefully we can make things right, please follow so we may [direct message]!" the airline responded at 7:08 p.m.

The airline contacted Smith personally to apologize for bumping the director of "Clerks" off a standby flight, accommodated him on a later flight, and sent him a $100 travel voucher for his inconvenience.

Southwest did not immediately return calls or a Twitter message for comment but posted a statement on its blog apologizing to Smith and explaining its "Customer of Size" policy, which "requires passengers that can not fit safely and comfortably in one seat to purchase an additional seat while traveling."

Kevin Smith 'too fat' to fly Southwest

But if Kevin Smith were, say, John Smith, who worked in Muncie, Indiana, instead of Hollywood, California, would he have gotten the same response to his tweets?

"If the company is actively using social media -- and I think that most companies are using social media -- I think the consumer stands a great chance of hearing directly from the company and being engaged and having their issues resolved," said Steve Loucks, vice president of communications for Travel Leaders, a large travel agency network.

Southwest has more than a million followers on Twitter. Loucks believes the majority of travel companies now are using sites including Twitter and Facebook to get feedback from their consumers.

"If someone feels they are not being heard, social media is a very visible way to tell your friends, the people that follow you, that you're not happy and hopefully the company will be paying attention," Loucks said.

Adam Ostrow, editor-in-chief of social media site, says many big brands are starting to dedicate entire teams to social media monitoring, because they know it's important to respond quickly to negative comments before they become a public relations nightmare.

Airline Twitter accounts

Yet there's a difference, Ostrow said, between responding and being able to fix the problem.

"For example, if you tweet that your plane has been stuck on the runway for four hours, JetBlue can respond to you, but they're likely not in a position to do anything about getting your plane off the ground," Ostrow said.

JetBlue, which wasn't involved in the Kevin Smith incident, is one of the most followed airlines, with more than 1.6 million followers on Twitter. JetBlue has six people who watch the airline's social media presence. The team rarely handles issues personally -- instead directing customers to the right resource for their complaints or questions.

"We consider ourselves more of an information booth rather than a customer service counter," public communications manager Morgan Johnston said.

Johnston says all JetBlue customers are equally important, but someone with a larger voice may get noticed, and responded to by the team, faster.

Ostrow recommends using the company's Twitter name in your complaint to get noticed, as most teams are set up to monitor for these mentions. He also suggests keeping your character count short so that others can easily retweet and share their own thoughts on the issue.

In her Mashable article "HOW TO: Get Your Feedback Heard on Social Networks," media director Mollie Vandor offers additional tips.

"First, always remember that the person on the other end of Twitter is, well, a person," Vandor writes. "Patience is key. You will get a better response if you give your recipient some time to look into the issue before they respond."

She also suggests avoiding people at the top of the company, instead looking for people who mention user experience, community or support on their Twitter profiles.

Most of all, it's important to hit the normal channels first before going on a social media rant, Travel Leaders' Loucks said -- give the system time to work and only try the more high profile online complaints if the company doesn't respond satisfactorily.

"We'd want to know about it not only because we want happy customers but because we want to make sure that that never happens again."